Orange crush

Ukraine | Ukrainians by the hundred thousands turn anger over a fraudulent election into revolution.

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2004," Dec. 11, 2004

Orange scarves. Orange hats. Orange plastic raincoats. Orange ribbons. Demonstrators in Ukraine displayed anything splashed with the color of the country's opposition, apparently robbed of the country's presidency. When they flooded Kiev by the hundreds of thousands for days, they made history.

The nonstop, 24-hour-a-day protests that centered in Kiev's Independence Square began on Nov. 22. What sparked them: a fraudulent run-off presidential election a day earlier between Kremlin-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and reformist candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Electoral authorities declared the prime minister the winner despite widespread reports-verified by Western monitors-of ballot-box stuffing and voters casting ballots in more than one precinct. The fact that Mr. Yushchenko had won the first round on Oct. 31 also made the run-off result suspicious.

For many of Mr. Yushchenko's supporters, believed to be the majority, the stakes were simple but high: Would Ukraine follow increasingly autocratic Russia, or model itself after the West? "We're speaking here of democracy," said Ivan Bespalov, pastor of Kiev's Presbyterian Church of the Holy Trinity. "If the former power continues to be in charge of the country, there will be similar conditions to what we had in the last 10 years. But with a new president, they hope Ukraine will make a huge step toward democracy, toward market reform and against corruption."

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The world also recognized that the electoral outcome would carve out Ukraine's political path. International observers swiftly condemned the balloting, and the United States and Europe leaned on the Ukrainian government to examine irregularities before deciding the winner. As Ukrainians waited for their Supreme Court to rule on vote-rigging complaints-11,000 filed nationwide by the opposition-they turned to lawmakers. On Dec. 1, in its second attempt and after some protesters flooded the lobby, the parliament passed a no-confidence vote on Mr. Yanukovych and dismissed him. They opted to create an interim government.

The week after the election saw some of Mr. Yanukovych's heaviest backers desert him as the protests continued. His campaign manager quit, and outgoing president Leonid Kuchma, who had anointed the prime minister as his successor, formally called for a new election. Even the state-controlled TV station went on strike on Nov. 25, inspired by one deaf interpreter who refused to repeat the newscast's claim that Mr. Yanukovych had won: "The results announced by the Central Election Commission are rigged," she signed instead. "Do not believe them." Now most stations are telling the truth.

Ukrainian diplomats around the world also rebelled. Led by four in Washington, at least 60 signed a letter protesting the results and supporting the demonstrators. The political counselor in Washington, Oleksandr Potiekhin, described the foreign ministry as being in a "state of revolution."

For the thousands of protesters staging their "Orange Revolution," the victories were stacking up. They set up a tent city around Independence Square, prepared to draw crucial world attention with a round-the-clock vigil. They persevered for days in subfreezing temperatures, winning food and medicines from sympathetic citizens throughout the vigil. When about 15,000 Yanukovych supporters turned out, the sheer number of their opponents reportedly awed many of them.

"Most of the people who take part in the demonstration are not aggressive at all," explained Mr. Bespalov, a former Communist youth leader and atheist turned Christian. "There's an atmosphere of joy and hope. I would say if you did not know the reasons for the protest, you would think it is a festival."

Yushchenko supporters were determined to show the best face of nonviolent resistance. Hard drinking was out, a feat in a country ridden with alcoholism, and courteous behavior was in.

Ukraine's mass demonstrations were reminiscent of those across Eastern Europe that brought down the Berlin Wall 15 years ago last month. They mirror those held in Georgia exactly one year ago, when protesters launched a "Rose Revolution" to oust President Eduard Shevardnadze after a fraudulent parliamentary election. In Kiev, some demonstrators carried Georgian flags. The protesters even won approval from veteran democracy fighters Lech Walesa of Poland's Solidarity movement and Czech anti-communist and former president Vaclav Havel.

The election itself saw support for each candidate splitting down the country's middle, with the largely Russian-speaking East and South supporting Mr. Yanukovych and the West and center, including Kiev, backing Mr. Yushchenko. But Serhiy Basarab, a Ukrainian translator with Music Mission, a ministry based in Kiev, said he saw protesters from all over the country. Fundamentally, he explained, Ukrainians are tired of their corrupt, heavy-handed government.

"The basic thing that actually unifies many people is the desire to see officials we can trust and who will inspire us and lead us," he told WORLD. Mr. Basarab and his wife took cold and flu medicines and trash bags to protesters, and wore orange ribbons on their bags in support of Mr. Yushchenko. "There's been a surge of Ukrainian nationalism," said Mr. Basarab, who sang the national anthem and Lord's Prayer with protesters one day. "I would say that this is the true birth of the Ukrainian identity. Ukraine has begun to establish itself as a true country."


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